SUEZ Recycling and Recovery UK: Providing opportunities for young people to succeed and be their very best self

Dr Tracey Leghorn, Chief HR and H&S Officer, SUEZ Recycling and Recovery UK. 

For young people, summer should be a rite of passage marked by exams, graduation and perhaps travel, or a first real experience of the world of work. But just as the pandemic has taken away many freedoms and disrupted their education, the aftershocks are impacting the life chances of young people, not least new graduates. 

They find themselves in a very tough jobs market, prompting fears of a ‘lost generation’ of talent and promise. We at SUEZ Recycling and Recovery UK believe in providing opportunities for young people to succeed and be their very best selves. The One Million Chances campaign resonates with that and by supporting the campaign we hope to encourage other businesses to inspire our young people and support them into employment and careers. 

The government’s Kickstart programme, offering high-quality six-month work placements for 16-24-year-olds who are on Universal Credit, is badly needed and very much to be welcomed. So far, SUEZ UK has taken on 20 of 60 approved roles that will provide the valuable experience we hope will help them overcome the risks they face of long-term unemployment. 

This scheme will give 18-24-year-olds the opportunity to gain valuable skills, training and experience within the waste and recycling sector. SUEZ UK has created a range of new jobs including Trainee Recycling Operatives, Trainee Reuse Operatives, Trainee Revive Operatives and Trainee Administration roles.  The Kickstart initiative gives us the ability to create entry-level roles, supporting new entrants to the market into their first jobs within the sector. 

This is in addition to our long-running graduate programme. Twice a year, we recruit graduates – up to 10 per annum – who go on to gain broad experience in different divisions. This structured scheme with individual mentoring and support is the springboard to a fulfilling career, and many become senior managers. 

We have also run a scheme for interns for a decade or more. We now manage around 20 internships each year. These short-term assignments are of immense value to the individuals, most of them graduates and bring the latest thinking, innovation, and insight into our company.  

Our interns typically earn the pro-rata equivalent of between £17,000 and £22,000 pa and where internships form part of a university course, living and other expenses are also paid. These are about real roles working on real work.  

We can offer internships in a wide range of settings, from engineering and other technical roles to human resources, legal, commercial, IT and communications. The pandemic complicated things and delayed some technical internships, where interns needed to be on site. But by ensuring arrangements were Covid-safe, we did our best to honour the offers made in line with Government guidance.  

Internships are also an opportunity to partner with organisations active in the communities we serve, like Leonard Cheshire, the national charity supporting people with disabilities. Currently, it provides about a quarter of our interns. 

Disabled people’s employment has been more heavily impacted by the pandemic than other groups.  Leonard Cheshire advisors help us identify any adjustments necessary to the workplace environment or ways of working, to help facilitate opportunities. An HR intern, now on summer holiday from her business management course, is doing great work for our wellbeing, inclusion and diversity programme, areas relevant to her future career plans. The work involves research, writing reports, presentations, and meetings with colleagues across the company. 

Last summer, after her very successful assignment, an environmental studies graduate referred by the charity cancelled her travel plans amid the lockdown. Such was the quality of her work, it led to a permanent post, in our IT department. We’ve not only gained a highly valued new colleague, but also a volunteer Sustainability Champion, leading on initiatives to enhance the environment at her workplace. 

Our growing relationship with Manchester Metropolitan University has also opened up opportunities for two new internships. Two Honours graduates in Interior Design will help us shape the layout of the new Renew Hub we are developing for our contract with Greater Manchester Combined Authority. The Hub will serve a network of Renew shops selling recovered furniture and household appliances, and accommodate repair and upcycling work pods, skills training, a community café, and other activities. The internships follow on from a joint research project with final year MMU business students into European best practice and public attitudes to re-use. 

Apprenticeships are a great way of bringing in new talent to the business and we currently have 115 apprentices across the business studying from level 2 (access) right through to postgraduate level 7. We provide a host of support and learning opportunities as part of our award-winning apprenticeship programme with each young person being assigned a coach to help guide them through the apprenticeship.  We ensure there is quality learning time given and each person is provided with 20% off-the-job training which can help them to develop networks with peers, colleagues, experts and mentors. 

We continue to support schools and colleges in our local communities by hosting visits, attending career fairs and by providing week-long Year 10 work experience at several of our facilities. These young students spend time learning more about SUEZ, our industry, and the career opportunities within it.  

After one of the work experience opportunities provided at an energy from waste plant, we received a request for the student to return during the summer holiday for a further two weeks. The young student had been so inspired by a female engineer at the site, that she came back to shadow her for a further two weeks and has now gone on to study engineering. 

More than ever, we employers have a social responsibility as well as a strong business case for giving young people opportunities that inspire them and provide a leg up onto that first all-important rung of their career ladder. 

See how you can give young people One Million Chances into the world of work.


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